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Samson went down to Timnath.
Samson’s first love
In considering Samson’s choice of a wife, we are conscious of a feeling of painful disappointment. In choosing a Philistine, we begin to see his lower nature acting the tyrant. But it were well if domestic history in modern times did not present many instances of similar stubbornness. In such matters, the fancy of young people is often the supreme law. Samson’s falling in love was in the ordinary way: “And he saw a woman of Tinmath,” and “she pleased him well.” We do not wonder that his pious parents were astonished at his wish to take a Philistine woman to wife. They were national enemies. And the angel had said he should deliver Israel. They would therefore naturally inquire, “How is this? Is our deliverance to begin with an alliance? We are not to touch anything unclean; our child is a Nazarite; and yet he wishes to marry a heathen! This is the beginning of the riddle.” “Is there never a woman among thy brethren?” is the natural inquiry of such a father and mother. As he was so especially consecrated to God, it must have seemed peculiarly improper for him to make such an alliance. In seeking a Philistine wife, even in the most favourable view we can take of the affair Samson was treading on doubtful and dangerous ground. Their law expressly forbade the Israelites to marry among those nations that were cursed and devoted to destruction. It does not appear, however, that the Philistines were numbered among the doomed Canaanites. They were of Egyptian origin. The spirit of the Hebrew law, however, was plainly against such alliances, for the Philistines were idolaters and foreigners. It is true the law that forbade an Israelite to marry a heathen was a ceremonial law, or a police law--one that related to their national policy. It was not one of the laws of the decalogue. It was not a moral law. It might therefore be changed or suspended. But if the Divine prohibition against such an alliance was repealed for the time, making for special reasons his case an exception, how is it that the historian does not inform us of this fact? Why does not Samson tell his parents that the law is repealed in this case? There is not even a hint of any such thing. The match was of his own seeking. But God, seeing Samson’s choice, determined to bring good out of it--he determined that his attachment to a Philistine woman should be overruled, so as to be the occasion of his beginning to deliver Israel. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
1. That the people of God are liable to imperfections. They are human, though partakers of grace.
2. That our lusts and passions are to be resisted. Scenes of temptation ought to be avoided, and our greatest earthly joys ought to be regarded by us as pregnant with temptation, and be carefully watched.
3. That care should be taken in forming friendships or alliances.
4. That a crooked policy does not eventually profit. Samson’s wife burnt by those to whom she betrayed her husband.
5. That God frequently works good out of evil; and that God’s purposes are frequently accomplished by means of persons and events apparently least adapted, or even most opposed.
6. That though God may pardon our sins, their consequences in this life are frequently irremediable. The Spirit of God came again upon Samson, but his eyes were never restored, and he perished in the destruction of his enemies. (J. Bigwood.)
The choice of a wife
Samson, the giant, is here asking consent of his father and mother to marriage with one whom they thought unfit for him. He was wise in asking their counsel, but not wise in rejecting it. Excuseless was he for such a choice in a land and amid a race celebrated for female loveliness and moral worth, a land and a race of which self-denying Abigail, and heroic Deborah, and dazzling Miriam, and pious Esther, and glorious Ruth were only magnificent specimens. There are almost in every farmhouse in the country, in almost every home of the great towns, conscientious women, self-sacrificing women, holy women; and more inexcusable than the Samson is that man who, amid all this unparalleled munificence of womanhood, marries a fool. That marriage is the destination of the human race is a mistake that I want to correct. There are multitudes who never will marry, and still greater multitudes who are not fit to marry. But the majority will marry, and have a right to marry; and I wish to say to these men, in the choice of a wife first of all seek Divine direction. The need of Divine direction I argue from the fact that so many men, and some of them strong and wise, have wrecked their lives at this juncture. Witness Samson and this woman of Timnath! Witness John Wesley, one of the best men that ever lived, united to one of the most outrageous of women, who sat in City Road Chapel making mouths at him while he preached! Especially is devout supplication needed, because of the fact that society is so full of artificialities that men are deceived as to whom they are marrying, and no one but the Lord knows. By the bliss of Pliny, whose wife, when her husband was pleading in court, had messengers coming and going to inform her what impression he was making; by the joy of Grotius, whose wife delivered him from prison under the pretence of having books carried out lest they be injurious to his health, she sending out her husband unobserved in one of the bookcases; by the good fortune of Roland, in Louis’s time, whose wife translated and composed for her husband while Secretary of the Interior--talented, heroic, wonderful Madame Roland; by the happiness of many a man who has made intelligent choice of one capable of being prime counsellor and companion in brightness and in grief--pray to Almighty God that at the right time and in the right place He will send you a good, honest, loving, sympathetic wife; or, if she is not sent to you, that you may be sent to her. But prayer about this will amount to nothing unless you pray soon enough. Wait until you are fascinated and the equilibrium of your soul is disturbed by a magnetic exquisite presence, and then you will answer your own prayers, and you will mistake your own infatuation for the voice of God. If you have this prayerful spirit you will surely avoid all female scoffers at the Christian religion; and there are quite a number of them in all communities. What you want, O man! in a wife is not a butterfly of the sunshine, not a giggling nonentity, not a painted doll, not a gossiping gadabout, not a mixture of artificialities which leave you in doubt as to where the sham ends and the woman begins, but an earnest soul, one that can not only laugh when you laugh, but weep when you weep. As far as I can analyse it, sincerity and earnestness are the foundation of all worthy wifehood. Get that, and you get all. Fail to get that, and you get nothing but what you will wish you never had got. Don’t make the mistake that the man of the text made in letting his eye settle the question in which coolest judgment directed by Divine wisdom are all-important. He who has no reason for his wifely choice except a pretty face is like a man who should buy a farm because of the dahlias in the front door yard. There are two or three circumstances in which the plainest wife is a queen of beauty to her husband, whatever her stature or profile. By financial panic, or betrayal of business partner, the man goes down, and returning to his home that evening he says: “I am ruined! I am in disgrace for ever! I care not whether I live or die.” After he ceases talking, and the wife has heard all in silence, she says: “Is that all? Why, you had nothing when I married you, and you have only come back to where you started. If you think that my happiness and that of the children depend on these trappings, you do not know me, though we have lived together thirty years. God is not dead and if you don’t mind, I don’t care a bit. What little we need of food and raiment the rest of our lives we can get, and don t propose to sit down and mope.” The husband looks up in amazement, and says, “ Well, well, you are the greatest woman I ever saw. I thought you would faint dead away When I told you.” And, as he looks at her, all the glories of physiognomy in the Court of Louis XV. on the modern fashion-plates are tame as compared with the superhuman splendours of that woman’s face. There is another time when the plainest wife is a queen of beauty to her husband. She has done the work of life. She has reared her children for God and heaven, and though some of them may be a little wild, they will yet come back, for God has promised. She is dying, and her husband stands by. They think over the years of their companionship, the weddings and the burials, the ups and the downs, the successes and the failures. They talk over the goodness of God, and His faithfulness to children’s children. She has no fear about going. Gone! As one of the neighbours takes the old man by the arm gently and says: “Come, you had better go into the next room and’ rest,” he says, “Wait a moment; I must take one more look at that face and at those hands! Beautiful! Beautiful!” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
It was of the Lord.
God overrules evil for good
1. This verse has been very strangely and very unfortunately misunderstood by many. It has been thought to mean
(1) That Samson was moved by the Spirit of God to desire this marriage; and
(2) that Samson desired to enter into it for the purpose of finding occasion to quarrel with the Philistines.
2. This view seems open to three fatal objections.
(1) The silence of Samson about any such movement of the Spirit of God.
(2) It makes God inspire Samson to go contrary to the spirit of His own law.
(3) It is opposed to the whole spirit of the narrative, which impresses one with the idea that Samson was sincere in his passion.
3. The marriage was of God, as the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar or the treachery of Judas, inasmuch as He permitted it and overruled it for bringing Samson into collision with the Philistines, and introducing him to the grand work of his life. (Thomas Kirk.)
A young lion . . . and he rent him.--
1. Physical strength is not an index of moral power. That this man was mighty the lion and the Philistines found out, and yet he was the subject of petty revenges, and was ungianted by base passion. Oh! it is a shame that so much of the work of the Church and the world has been done by invalids, while the stout and the healthy men, like great hulks, were rotting in the sun. Richard Baxter, spending his life in the door of the tomb, and yet writing a hundred volumes and starting uncounted people on the way to the saints’ everlasting rest. Giants in body, be giants in soul!
2. Strength may do a great deal of damage if it is misdirected. To pay one miserable bet which this man had lost, he robs and slays thirty people. As near as I can tell, much of his life was spent in animalism, and he is a type of a large class of people in all ages who, either giants in body, or giants in mind, or giants in social position, or giants in wealth, use that strength for making the world worse instead of making it better. Who can estimate the soul-havoc wrought by Rousseau going forward with the very enthusiasm of iniquity and his fiery imagination affecting all the impulsive natures of his time? Or wrought by David Hume, who spent his lifetime, as a spider spends the summer, in weaving silken webs to catch the unwary? Or by Voltaire, who marshalled a host of sceptics in his time and led them on down into a deeper darkness?
3. A giant may be overthrown by a sorceress.
4. The greatest physical strength must crumble and give way. He may have had a longer grave and a wider grave than you and I will have, but the tomb was his terminus. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Brawn and muscle consecrated
We are often told that people must give account for their wealth, and so they must; and they must give account for their intelligence, and so they must; but no more than they must give account for the employment of their physical organism. Shoulder, arm, brain, knee, foot, all the forces that God has given us are we using them to make the world better or make it worse? Those who have strong arms, those who have elastic step, those who have clear eye, those who have steady brain, those are the men who are going to have the mightiest accounts to render. What are we doing with the faculties that God has given us? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Resist the devil
Sudden, surprising danger is brought before us here. How true that is of the life of young men still. Are there not temptations that leap upon us--spiritual wickednesses that come upon us unawares? This Samson was going down to Timnath on thoughts of love intent, never dreaming of such danger. A young lion roared against him. I thank God for the roar--for the sins that are unmistakable. You know where you are. But what are we to do with such temptations? First of all, do not run. Samson had great strength; he could stand and fight till his weapon clave to his fist; but I rather think running was not in his line. There was only one thing death or victory; and he ran all risks, and flung himself on the brute. So with certain sins. Do not dally with them; do not dodge--you cannot. Do not try, as some one has said, to think them down. It is utterly impossible; it is neither philosophical nor anything else. There is just one thing to do--accept them. Take them as they are, in all their ugliness and all their ferocity, and do not be afraid, but by faith and prayer imbrue your hand in their blood. Grip them, bring them out, face them, and slay them before the Lord. And do it quickly; make sure work of it no half-work of these lusts, like springing lions, that war against the soul. See how heaven and earth are mingled in that conflict. In order to tell this story completely, you have to bring in the supernatural--“The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him.” Now, that control by the Spirit must be known by us; His power must be experienced. Without Him ye can do nothing. Without Him, the lion-like temptations, or the snake-like temptations, will lay hold of you and destroy you. But with the Spirit of God you are invincible; you have got the secret of the old warrior in classic story, who as often as he touched mother-earth found his strength return to him. “Stand,” says Paul. “How?” you ask. “Praying always, with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,” he replies. But notice further, “there was nothing in his hand.” No sword, no staff. An adumbration, a hint of the New Testament again: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual.” To the eye of sense, the most defenceless babe in London is the young fellow, full of flesh and blood, who wants to hold the faith and fear of Jesus Christ. Wonder of wonders! He is not defenceless. Marvel of marvels, joy of heaven, disappointment of hell, he is not overcome! There are men and women to-day living a kind of salamander life; living in the flame, with the roar of the lion, and the hiss of the serpent, and the rattle of the snake, for ever in their ears; and they are not dead yet, and they never shall be. Yet they have “nothing in their hands.” How, then, do they live when others are pinned to the earth? The Spirit of the Lord is with them. “He told not his father or mother what he had done.” For a young Christian that is very helpful. Samson had his fine points about him. Like a great many other giants, he was a modest fellow. He bore his honours meekly. You may be like Samson. You may be a deal stronger and brighter than your fellows, and you may be able to cope with difficulties that overwhelm others. Cope with them, and hold your tongue. Perhaps you have escaped a lot of things that others have not escaped. But remember Samson. He did not halloo; and it well became him, for he was not out of the wood. Take care; there is no cause for fear; but there is no cause for boasting. Then another word from the eighth verse: “After a time he returned, and he turned aside,” etc. The picture is Samson going on eating that sweetmeat, and being refreshed by it; and you see at once the application of it. Sin faced, mastered, becomes a very eating and drinking as we go on our way. See how the believer’s path is a path going on from strength to strength. Crucifying the flesh is honey-sweetness. Do this to your temptations: get at the honey in the heart of their carcase when you have slain them; thereby reading Samson’s riddle, “Out of the eater comes forth meat, and out of the strong comes forth sweetness.” (J. McNeill.)
The sweet memory of triumph
1. The victory over the lion of unbelief.
2. The lion of temptation.
3. The lion of a rebellious spirit.
4. Death, the last enemy, shall also be vanquished. (T. Davies.)
He told not his father or his mother.--
Estrangement from home influences
All this was bad and dangerous. For by the constitution of what I take to have been his passionately kind and cordial, as well as most murderously resentful nature, he must have company and friends, and even confidants; and not finding them at home, he must go and seek them out for himself abroad, and be thus ever in danger of casting himself into the arms of those who lure him only to destruction. If you are taking up with other friends more readily, and are begun already to be more communicative to other counsellors out of doors, shutting your mouth, because you are more than willing now to shut your ears to such godly counsel as, both by their natural anxiety and their Christian vows, they find it incumbent on them to give--if you feel impatient of such restraint, and would even presume to treat it not a little imperiously, having chosen for yourselves counsellors of another spirit, and more likely to concur with the desires and devices of your own heart, which are many, then just see here how like sleepwalkers, with eyes glistening and staring wide, yet visionless as the blind, are you treading now on the very brink of that hidden gulf, into which if you fall but once, it may be never to rise again. (John Bruce, D. D.)
Honey in the carcase.--
Honey out of the dead lion
I. It is through divine strength that victories are won.
1. The Spirit of the Lord came mightily on Samson. God trains men for the work they have to do; if they are to be deliverers, saviours, then their training shall be physical--as in the case of Samson; his conflict with the lion would prepare him for repeated encounters with the Philistines.
2. It was when Samson was about to enter public life that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. It is in the freshness of youth, before the mind is saturated with worldliness and the heart incrustated with selfishness, that there are Divine visitations.
II. Life is the history of victory and defeat. A man may slay a lion, but have no control over himself; he may be physically strong, but morally weak. Many of our defeats are to be traced to our self-confidence and self-love, to our forgetfulness of God. If we have won any victories, they are to be traced to Divine grace and strength.
III. Past victories are not to be forgotten. On a subsequent occasion Samson turned aside to see the lion he had slain. God will not have us forget the past, or the way by which we have reached our present position (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). All our Sabbaths, and sacraments, and sermons, are always saying to us, “Thou shalt remember.” They remind us of the great victory gained for us by the Captain of our salvation, in which we are permitted to claim our part.
IV. We get strength and encouragement from the remembrance of past victories. If ever you have slain a lion, be sure that eventually it will yield you honey. You have overcome doubt--you have strengthened faith. You have vanquished sin--you have increased holiness. You have conquered fear--you have gained strength. We learn, too, that there is a Divine power ever at work in this world. From the secret place of thunder come forth the streams that make glad the world. The light is born in darkness. Good comes out of evil. (H. J. Bevis.)
Hands full of honey
What a type we have here of our Divine Lord and Master, Jesus, the conqueror of death and hell! He has destroyed the lion that roared upon us and upon Him. He has shouted “Victory!“ over all our foes. To each one of us who believe in Him He gives the luscious food which He has prepared for us by the overthrow of our foes; He bids us come and eat, that we may have our lives sweetened and our hearts filled with joy. The Samson type may well serve as the symbol of every Christian in the world.
I. The believer’s life has its conflicts. Learn, then, that if, like Samson, you are to be a hero for Israel, you must early be inured to suffering and daring in some form or other.
1. These conflicts may often be very terrible. By a young lion is not meant a whelp, but a lion in the fulness of its early strength; not yet slackened in its pace, or curbed in its fury by growing years. Fresh and furious, a young lion is the worst kind of beast that a man can meet with. Let us expect as followers of Christ to meet with strong temptations, fierce persecutions, and severe trials, which will lead to stern conflicts. These present evils are for our future good: their terror is for our teaching.
2. These conflicts come early, and they are very terrible; and, moreover, they happen to us when we are least prepared for them. Samson was not hunting for wild beasts; he was engaged on a much more tender business. He was walking in the vineyards of Timnath, thinking of anything but lions, and “behold,” says the Scripture, “a young lion roared against him.” It was a remarkable and startling occurrence. Samson stood an unarmed, unarmoured man in the presence of a raging beast. So we in our early temptations are apt to think that we have no weapon for the war, and we do not know what to do. We are made to cry out, “I am unprepared! How can I meet this trial? “ Herein will the splendour of faith and glory of God be made manifest, when you shall slay the lion, and yet it shall be said of you that “he had nothing in his hand“--nothing but that which the world sees not and values not.
3. I invite you to remember that it was by the Spirit of God that the victory was won. We read, “And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid.” Let the Holy Spirit help us in our trouble, and we need neither company nor weapon; but without Him what can we do?
II. The believer’s life has its sweets. What is more joyful than the joy of a saint!
1. Of these joys there is plenty. We have such a living swarm of bees to make honey for us in the precious promises of God, that there is more delight in store than any of us can possibly realise. There is infinitely more of Christ beyond our comprehension than we have as yet been able to comprehend. How blessed to receive of His fulness, to be sweetened with His sweetness, and yet to know that infinite goodness still remains!
2. Our joys are often found in the former places of our conflicts. We gather our honey out of the lions which have been slain for us or by us. There is, first, our sin. A horrible lion that! But it is a dead lion, for grace has much more abounded over abounding sin. “I have blotted out thy sins like a cloud, and as a thick cloud thine iniquities.” Here is choice honey for you! The next dead lion is conquered desire. When a wish has arisen in the heart contrary to the mind of God, and you have said, “Down with you! I will pray you down. You used to master me; I fell into a habit and I was soon overcome by you; but I will not again yield to you. By God’s grace I will conquer you“--I say, when at last you have obtained the victory such a sweet contentment perfumes your heart that you are filled with joy unspeakable, and you are devoutly grateful to have been helped of the Spirit of God to master your own spirit. Thus you have again eaten spiritual honey.
III. The believer’s life leads him to communicate of these sweets. As soon as we have tasted the honey of forgiven sin and perceived the bliss that God has laid up for His people in Christ Jesus, we feel it to be both our duty and our privilege to communicate the good news to others. Here let my ideal statue stand in our midst: the strong man, conqueror of the lion, holding forth his hands full of honey to his parents. We are to be modelled according to this fashion.
1. We do this immediately. The moment a man is converted, if he would let himself alone, his instincts would lead him to tell his fellows.
2. The believer will do this first to those who are nearest to him. Samson took the honey to his father and mother, who were not far away. With each of us the most natural action would be to tell a brother or a sister or a fellow-workman, or a bosom friend. It will be a great joy to see them eating the honey which is so pleasant to our own palate.
3. The believer will do this as best he can. Samson, you see, brought the honey to his father and mother in a rough-and-ready style, going on eating it as he brought it. Carry the honey in your hands, though it drip all round: no hurt will come of the spilling; there are always little ones waiting for such drops. If you were to make the gospel drip about everywhere, and sweeten all things, it would be no waste, but a blessed gain to all around. Therefore, I say to you, tell of Jesus Christ as best you can, and never cease to do so while life lasts.
4. But then Samson did another thing, and every true believer should do it too: he did not merely tell his parents about the honey, but he took them some of it. If your hands serve God, if your heart serves God, if your face beams with joy in the service of God, you will carry grace wherever you go, and those who see you will perceive it.
5. Take note, also, that Samson did this with great modesty. In telling your own experience be wisely cautious. Say much of what the Lord has done for you, but say little of what you have done for the Lord. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He told not them that he had taken the honey.--
Samson’s silence respecting the honey
Two reasons may be given for it.
1. To secure that his parents might eat the honey. According to the ceremonial law, the honeycomb, from its having been in contact with a dead body, was unclean, and the likelihood is that, if the parents of Samson had known the fact, they would have refused to eat it. Such a motive for his silence would be indeed discreditable; but it does not seem likely that such minute particulars of ceremonial observance, in that degenerate period, would be present to the mind of a young man of about nineteen years of age.
2. The other reason--and probably the true one--is, that he might ensure the success of his riddle at the marriage feast. Samson was gifted with a quick wit and ready invention. He saw, as he walked along, how the circumstance of getting the honey out of the carcase of the lion might be turned into a riddle for the entertainment of his guests, and so, in order to make sure that no inkling of it might get abroad, he resolved to keep it a secret. He was manifestly a young man who could keep his own counsel. (Thomas Kirk.)
I will now put forth a riddle unto you.--
By the goodness of God those things which once appeared unpleasant or injurious become real blessings.
1. This general observation may be applied to those painful convictions and apprehensions which sometimes harass the minds of beginners in religion. Many who have felt the deepest sorrow for sin have afterwards possessed the greatest degree of religious joy, and have “loved much, because they knew that much was forgiven.” Thus, then, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.”
2. The same may be said of divers temptations with which a Christian may be exercised.
3. It is the lot of many, of very many good people, to be poor. Yet, even here, they gather honey from the carcase of the lion; for their various troubles give occasion for the exercise of humble resignation to the sovereign will of God. Constant dependence upon God is thereby promoted. Thankfulness is another fruit of sanctified affliction; for such is the ingratitude of our hearts, that we are scarcely sensible of the value of our mercies but by the loss or suspension of them. Another advantage which may be gained from poverty is, that the Christian is led to seek the things that are above.
4. Apply this sentiment to the person who is grievously afflicted with severe pains and bodily afflictions. “We have borne chastisement; we will not offend any more,” then is the purpose of Divine goodness in the visitation accomplished (Psalms 119:67; Psalms 119:71).
5. Domestic trials may produce the same advantages (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
6. The same may be said with regard to disappointments in our worldly affairs.
7. Persecution is another of those evils to which the people of God are exposed. As long as there are men “born after the flesh,” there will be hatred and opposition against those who are “born after the Spirit.” But out of this unpromising lion sweet honey has been procured.
8. The subject may even be extended to death itself. The death of Christ, though “according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,” was effected by the cruel hands of wicked men. But bitter as seemed this event to the disciples; what ever produced so much sweetness? Apply this also to the death of believers. Nothing to nature is so formidable as death; it is the king of terrors; and through the fear of it, many are all their lifetime subject to bondage. Such, indeed, is the carcase of the lion; but search and see: is there no honey within? Is there nothing to lessen the terrors of the tomb, and reconcile man to the grave? Yes; there is much every way. The sting of death is extracted. And not only so, but death is gain. The Christian leaves a troublesome world, a diseased body, a disordered soul, to be with Christ, to behold His glory, to be perfectly like Him.
1. Let us be led to adore the wisdom and goodness of God in bringing good out of evil.
2. On the contrary, it is painful to reflect on the state of worldly and wicked men, who are unhappily so entirely under the power of sin and Satan that they continually extract evil even from good.
3. What an argument may we derive from this subject for the commitment of ourselves and all our concerns into the hands of an all-wise and all-gracious God! (G. Burder.)
Fruits of conflict
I. In the history of civilisation we see how honey comes from the lion, rich fruitage from conflict. Men at first dwelt in caves. Navies were then only in forests, and railways in the mountains. Men’s necessities goaded to effort. Even in Eden sinless man toiled; much more must sinful man toil. Think of the poverty and pains of Elias Howe, through long years of weary effort, before he perfected the sewing-machine; of the obscurity and penury out of which the great emancipator came who rent the lion of American slavery and rescued the slave; and of Him whom we worship as the Saviour of the race--if you would justly estimate the value and significance of disciplinary trial.
II. The conflicts of the church illustrate the same. In the glens and on the moors of Scotland thousands have fallen martyrs in struggles against superstition, etc.
III. Individual history. You are a business man. The prosperity you have has been gained by toil. These are the sweets that came from the lion of poverty and toil. You are a parent, and have suffered tribulation in the loss of dear ones. Good comes out of it if you love God, somehow, as purity comes to the atmosphere after the thunderstorm. I saw recently, in the gallery of the Royal Academy in Edinburgh, the face of St. Paul painted with an encircling cloud full of angels. It held me as no other picture, and I thought that every cloud which darkens the believer’s way is full of angels, if he did but know it. Conclusion: There are three ways of conquering a foe--you may knock, talk, or live him down. Choose the last. Though others are bad, be yourselves good. (C. Easton.)
The wedding riddle and tragedy
1. I do not see anything wrong in Samson making a feast, as the young men used to do. It belonged to the bride and her friends to say what its details should be. In so far, then, as he could comply with the customs of her people without sinning we find no fault. The Bible does not require us to be proud, mopish, rude, supercilious, or ill-behaved. The want of genuine politeness is no proof of true religion.
2. At weddings it was common to have games, riddles, and the like amusements. An old scholiast on Aristophanes is quoted by Dr. Clark as saying that it was “a custom among the ancient Greeks to propose, at their festivals, what were called griphoi, riddles, enigmas, or very obscure sayings, both curious and difficult, and to give a recompense to those who found them out, which generally consisted either in a festive crown or a goblet full of wine. Those who failed to solve them were condemned to drink a large portion of fresh water, or of wine mingled with sea water, which they were compelled to take down at one draught, without drawing their breath, their hands being tied behind their backs. Sometimes they gave the crown to the deity in honour of whom the festival was made; and if none could solve the riddle, the reward was given to him who proposed it.” It were a much better way to spend our time at seasons of merry-making in expounding enigmas and riddles than in slandering our neighbours or in gluttony or excessive drink. At our weddings let there be entertainment for the mind, as well as employment for the palate. Our social habits and opportunities should be diligently employed in doing and receiving good. At the wedding all goes on merrily. Sport and play are in the ascendant. The cup-questions were as sparkling as the cups. Many were the passages at Wit. At last Samson is aroused. He says, “I will propose a riddle.” If they solve his riddle, he is to pay thirty changes of raiment. If they fail, they are to pay him one change of raiment apiece. Samson had an odd humour generally of pitting himself against great odds. No doubt he thought himself sure of victory.
3. The solution is given at the appointed hour. Josephus paraphrases the interview thus: “They said to Samson, ‘Nothing is more disagreeable than a lion to those that light on it, and nothing is sweeter than honey to those that make use of it.’ To which he replied: ‘Nothing is more deceitful than a woman; for such was the perfidious person that discovered my interpretation to you.” He meant, doubtless, that without the assistance of his wife they could not have told the riddle. And on this plea, he might have disputed whether they were entitled to the forfeit.
4. Though betrayed and badly treated, Samson scorns to complain, but goes right off to procure the means to pay his forfeit. He was neither a cruel husband nor a repudiator.
5. Samson’s “anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.” Anger is as natural as a smile. His wife’s treachery was a just cause of anger, and his going up to his father’s house at this time showed unusual prudence and forbearance. When he returned to Timnath to pay the forfeit, he seems not to have seen his wife. But lordly as Achilles, and quite as angry and proud in his self-consciousness of unmerited wrong and impulsive ferocity, he strides off home to his father and mother. It was not wise for him to trust himself in his wife’s presence when the sense of his wrongs was so warm within him. “But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.” That is, she was given by her father and the chiefs of the town in marriage to his first groomsman. Although she had but little liberty in the matter, still no doubt she was glad the Hebrew was gone, and that she was the wife of his friend. How far Samson was justified in leaving his wife is not altogether clear from the text. Most probably he did not intend a final separation, although this was the result. (W. A. Scott, D. D.)
The pathway of life has many a lion in it, and our success and happiness depend very much on the way we deal with them. Nearly all the strongest men in our great cities had to encounter, early poverty and hardships; their limited education was got at the cost of self-denial, but learning was all the sweeter when they found it in the carcase of the slain lion. Had there been no Samson in all such young men they would have been frightened by discouragement into a helpless obscurity. One of the Christian leaders in New York tells us that he never has found greater enjoyment in his fine library than he found in the second-hand book which he purchased with his first shilling and read in his father’s rustic cabin. Every good enterprise has its lions. Things that cost little count little. When a handful of Christians undertake to build up a mission school in some wretched neighbourhood, or to build a church in some destitute region, they find difficulties “roaring against them“ like the wild beast in the vineyard of Timnath. These obstacles endear their work to them. There is a spiritual enjoyment in the after-results of their hard toils that they never could have known if their work had been easier. A sermon heard in a frontier church, whose erection cost sharp sacrifice, after a ten-mile ride over a country road, has some honey in it to a hungry Christian. Did you ever face a lion in undertaking the spiritual reformation of some hardened sinner? And had you ever a sweeter banquet of soul than when you saw him sitting beside you at Christ’s table? Even the performance of a duty which presented a disagreeable front has a peculiar satisfaction in it. Captain Hedley Vicars encountered a shower of scoffs from his brother officers in the Crimean army when he was first converted. But he put his Bible on his table in his tent, and stood by his colours. Henceforth, the lion was not only slain, but there was rich honey in the carcase when his religious influence became a power in his regiment. Life’s sweetest enjoyments are gathered from the victories of faith. Out of slain lions come forth meat; out of conquered foes to the soul come its sweetest honeycombs. One of the joys of heaven will be the remembrance of victories won during our earthly conflicts. (T. L. Cuyler.)
Out of strength, sweetness
Strength and sweetness may be taken as in some way a formula of human perfection. They are qualities which may have a certain hidden connection and interdependence, and yet which men usually expect to find, not together, but apart. Sometimes it is the strength that makes upon us the first and deepest impression--as, for instance, in Luther, a man of gigantic force and grasp; before whose fixed will and undaunted perseverance the Papacy itself totters. And yet in the familiar talk which happily survives to tell what manner of man he was, how kindly he shows himself, how gentle, how full of domestic cheerfulness and mirth, how loving to little children! So perhaps in Luther’s master, Paul, it is the strength which dared and endured so much that first makes its mark upon us: we marvel at the inexhaustible energy which founded so many churches, traversed the civilised world hither and thither, survived such various hardships, could know no pleasure, enjoy no rest, so long as an opportunity remained of speaking a word or winning a soul for Christ. And yet, as we look more closely, we note how this restlessly energetic apostle is still the prophet--I had almost said the poet--of Christian love; keeps his sway over men’s minds by the charm of sweetness. On the other hand, it is peculiar to that type of character which we call the saintly to make an impression of sweetness, which diverts attention from the hidden strength within: that St. Francis should draw hearts of like pulse to his own, and live the centre of a brotherhood of love, we can understand; while that he should be a power in the Church for centuries, begetting spiritual sons through generation after generation, is a fact that startles us into the search for its explanation. But the consummate instance of this kind of character is the Master Himself. In Him men see and feel the sweetness, but they have to learn the strength. They are swayed, but so gently that they are hardly conscious of the force, which nevertheless they are unable to resist. These examples are all taken from the high places of humanity: let us look a little nearer home. We may admit without any difficulty that there is a strength which has no sweetness in it; which puts itself forth and strives towards its own ends, without caring what other forces it jostles against, or even what hearts it tramples on; which, wholly self-centred, goes on its way with all the hardness which comes of pure and unalloyed selfishness. But whether such strength is not in its nature partial and incomplete, whether its very lack of sweetness does not argue a certain narrowness of scope and meanness of aim, I will rather ask than pause to prove. With all the finest strength we associate the idea of magnanimity; and what we call “greatness of mind” has in it precisely the quality which I attributed to the powers of nature, of being concerned with things on the largest scale, and yet easily and unconsciously bending to things on the least. This, however, is not the point to which I chiefly ask your attention; but rather that, though there is a sweetness of disposition, undoubtedly genuine and lovable after its kind, which does not co-exist with force of character, the truest and noblest sweetness is that which “cometh out of the strong.” For this last is no mere yieldingness and flexibility of heart, which is willing to take men for their outward seeming and at their own valuation, but a keen and large discernment of what elements of nobleness are really in them; not a desire that the complicated machine of society should run smoothly, and unpleasant things be hidden out of sight, and a general pretence established that life holds no sin and is stained by no shame, but a true reaching forth towards the essential harmony in which all God’s world is compact together, an aspiration after the peace which comes of all places filled and all rights respected. (C. Beard, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20